Full Moon Over Chiapas – Translation
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[Eliezer Budasoff]: There’s only one week to go before the elections in the United States. At El hilo — Radio Ambulante’s sibling podcast — we have an episode on how Arizona has gone from being a testing lab of anti-immigrant policies to a state that could decide the next president of the United States. The episode is called “Arizona: Where everything is in play.” And this Friday we’re going to Florida, to understand the role disinformation is playing in another state that is key to the elections.
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[Daniel Alarcón]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
I want to start with Claudia, Claudia Morales. In April of this year, 2020, she was staying at her parents’ house, in Chiapas in southern Mexico. Everything you’ll hear today happened in that region: a valley surrounded by hills and trees, which has been inhabited for more than two thousand years. It’s where the capital of the state is, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, but several towns surround it, almost all of them small towns in which people for the most part work the land: farming, ranching, and raising horses. It’s a rural area where life is peaceful.
Anyway, Claudia decided to go back to Tuxtla to live with her family when the pandemic started. And while she was there…
[Claudia Morales]: You could say that for a week people, I think everyone, even the most skeptical people, locked their doors, you know?
[Daniel]: But we should clarify something. They weren’t locking their doors for fear that the virus might enter, no. They were afraid of something else, something that could be considered supernatural.
[Claudia]: I learned about it for the first time because I have friends who live in Coita.
[Daniel]: Coita is one of those towns near the capital, about 40 minutes away. A lot of people who live in Coita go to the capital every day to work or study. And although it’s technically a small city, Coita still has the air of a small town: a church, a market, and a town square. White adobe houses with red roofs where you still see people in the evening sitting at their doors drinking coffee and eating bread, taking a break from the heat, and chatting with friends.
[Claudia]: And a friend of mine said, “Well, the whole town has been up since last night because of the werewolf.”
[Daniel]: A. Were. Wolf.
Actually, her friend didn’t say that. He posted it on Facebook, jokingly, but it got Claudia’s attention, and she asked him to tell her more.
[Claudia]: And he said, “Well subscribe to this page because they’re following it.” And I said, “Who or what are they following?” (laughter). And he said, “No, there’s a live stream now where they’re following the werewolf.”
[Daniel]: Just like that. Supposedly there was a werewolf roaming Coita and there was a live stream of it.
Of course, Claudia went to the Facebook page with the video right away. It was almost midnight. And this is what she found.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María Rincón]: How do I explain the situation you’re seeing unfold this morning… (barking). Well, even the dogs are… are worried. Honestly, the feeling I have is… My hair is standing on end, uh…
[Daniel]: It was a person talking off-camera. He was in Coita’s town square, which was deserted. Just him, telling the latest news about the werewolf.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[Jose María]: They just told me that they saw something weird. They saw something weird. If there’s someone from the ecological area, please comment because they say they heard howling (barking).
[Claudia]: So, well, I started watching the live stream about how they were following the werewolf, and something that seemed fascinating to me was that this was very serious.
[Daniel]: Despite that joking tone her friends were using, Claudia realized that the person in the video seemed to be doing a real investigation.
That was the first video that Claudia saw, but there were others. They popped up at all hours. The ones that had the most viewers were at night.
[Claudia]: So at night, with the… traditional architecture, well, it was scary (laughter).
[Daniel]: Claudia’s nervous laughter is because, joking aside, deep down she was a little scared. And that’s because on the page they uploaded recordings of testimonies, photos of supposed evidence, and from the comments, it seemed like everyone in town knew at least one person who had heard or seen some sign of that werewolf.
Claudia was totally hooked. After all, she was cooped up at home, waiting out the pandemic with not much else to do.
[Claudia]: I became a virtual werewolf hunter.
[Daniel]: So much so that her routine changed.
[Claudia]: You know, I would teach classes, right?, and then I would go to sleep really late because the hunt for the werewolf started at night (laughs).
[Daniel]: So, for this Halloween, we’re bringing you the story of the Coita Werewolf. A special episode of Radio Ambulante for listening late at night, in the dark.
The mystery of the werewolf enveloped a whole town in southern Mexico thousands of others on social media. And now… you.
Victoria Estrada and Fernanda Guzmán investigated this strange case.
[Fernanda Guzmán]: In order to find out what was really going on in Coita, we spoke with him.
[José María]: My name is José María Rincón Espinosa. I’m the admin for the Coita Milenario page.
[Fernanda]: “Coita Milenario” is the Facebook page where those live streams that Claudia told us about were being uploaded. And José María was the person who filmed them. He went out to places where people reported having heard the werewolf with hopes of perhaps capturing it on camera. He also used these nighttime patrols to give the most recent news on what was known about the topic.
However, the page isn’t actually a place for uploading horror stories, cases of the supernatural, or scary topics. It’s more traditional. They talk about Coita’s tourist attractions; they advertise local businesses; and in general, they promote the culture and traditions of the town. It functions as a team of volunteers. They also follow local news, what people are talking about in the community, especially in places like the market.
[José María]: It’s like a place of… where all ideologies are brought together and all comments are brought together, and it’s the place where you can find the latest information.
[Fernanda]: The first time the topic of the werewolf was late 2019. People started saying that in Ocuilapa, another town about 30 minutes away, some people had seen it.
[José María]: And I said, “OK, it must be some person in particular who they started calling ‘The Werewolf.’”
[Fernanda]: In other words, it was just a nickname. José María didn’t pay much attention to it, but a few months later — now January of 2020 — rumors surfaced about a werewolf attacking a woman who was walking by herself along the highway near that town. And although there were no official reports, the story started to spread. Some people in Coita asked José María if he knew anything.
[José María]: So that’s when I start having doubts, and I say, “Hold on, something’s going on there. People are now commenting about something that’s happening and saying that they’re afraid.”
[Fernanda]: That is, if people are afraid, there must be some reason. He decided it was worth looking into. So he went straight to the nearby town to ask about the supposed attack on that woman.
[José María]: And everyone said, “No, it’s gossip. The… the neighbor who, well she’s like half-stoned… or she just wants, uh, to get attention, you know?”
[Fernanda]: It seemed like it was a local joke. A few months went by and from time to time you would hear that someone had seen the werewolf, but it wouldn’t come to anything. Reports here and there, but they weren’t confirmed. Still, he decided it was worth asking. Again. So on April 7th, José María published a question on Facebook.
[José María]: Have you heard about ‘the werewolf’ that’s roaming the streets of Ocuilapa?
[Fernanda]: He wasn’t expecting much, but people responded right away.
[José María]: I start getting comments on the page about if… if I know what’s going on, if I know what information we have about these, uh, phenomena that are occurring at… now at the center of the city.
[Fernanda]: In other words, not only had it been seen in Oculiapa, that other town: the werewolf had made it to Coita. José María realized that it was a popular topic so he made another post. But as a kind of joke, that was it.
[José María]: The simple thing was to make a meme, and that meme said, “The Ocuilapa Werewolf is now in Coita.”
[Fernanda]: It’s a simple image. The backdrop is the Coita cathedral and in the foreground there’s a classic werewolf — muscular, with long claws, covered in hair, standing on two legs and baring its chest — howling at the moon. Ah, yes, because that Tuesday was a full moon. And not just any full moon, a super moon that was supposed to be the biggest one of the year. This image got even more responses.
[José María]: In half an hour it was shared more than 200 times and seen by more than 20,000 people, after five hours it had made it to more than 50,000 people.
[Fernanda]: There were all sorts of things in the comments. Mostly people made jokes, shared memes, and laughed about the whole thing, but some did say that they had heard strange noises or had heard about someone who had seen something strange.
But let’s remember the dates. This was posted in early April of 2020, less than a month before the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic and the national “stay at home” campaign had started a few weeks prior, in Mexico. It was a tense and uncertain time.
For José María, the most logical explanation was that it was all a consequence of people’s fear of the pandemic and the stress of not being able to leave home.
[José María]: Perhaps because of the fact that they were cooped up at home and they were getting to the point that they couldn’t sleep, so they were hearing odd noises in the early morning, which could be very normal noises.
[Fernanda]: Normal because there are a few ecological reserves nearby.
[José María]: You can come across a certain kind of felines. You can come across a certain kind of bat or owl.
[Fernanda]: There are rivers, caves, and a waterfall, and you can also find jaguars, pumas, spider monkeys, and ocelots. For that reason, it would make sense to confuse the sound of these animals with a paranormal phenomenon.
Days after he posted the meme of the werewolf, there was a lot of activity on the page. More and more people were sharing and commenting on Coita Milenario’s posts. And it seemed like people were getting more and more afraid. Until Friday night, three days after José María published the question and the meme, a rumor was beginning to spread that groups of people were going out with weapons to hunt the werewolf.
[José María]: They walked around with sticks, crowbars, whatever they could, weapons. And they went to the top of the hill looking for the infamous werewolf.
[Fernanda]: And we should take a break here. The story of the werewolf may seem familiar to you, not just because we’ve all heard it a thousand times as kids, of course, but also because this story, in particular, represents what’s going on today: an anecdote is shared on social media, it spreads, it gets exaggerated, it gets misunderstood, and there are jokes and rumors, and in a manner of days, it becomes, if not a true story, something real enough that there are people with weapons looking for answers.
This tendency, we know, is part of what has deformed journalism and democracy. And José María felt that conflict.
[José María]: Because I felt responsible for having started a meme and that meme got mixed with the issue of Covid or collective fear and people have latched onto it or channeled all their fear through. a being that’s a joke, you know?
[Fernanda]: He didn’t want to create more disinformation and fear on top of what the people of Coita were already feeling because of the pandemic. So on the night of Friday, April 10th…
[José María]: I felt like I needed to go out and do a live stream.
[Fernanda]: To clarify things. What he wanted with this video was to calm people, to show that nothing was going on, despite the reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: Hello friends of Coita Milenario, good evening. We’ve gone out at this early hour in the morning, it’s past 1:30 in the morning, and that’s because a person contacted us saying there were strange noises in the streets.
[Fernanda]: José María doesn’t appear on camera because he’s alone, walking through Coita’s central park and recording with his equipment.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: As you can see, downtown is totally empty. We can see the street completely deserted at the moment.
[Fernanda]: Because of the time he was streaming, José María wasn’t expecting much of an audience. Usually, his videos don’t get more than 100 views, but…
[José María]: That night more than 400 people were watching it live.
[Fernanda]: A lot of people were awake and tuned in. And despite José María’s intentions, his live stream didn’t do anything to dispel the rumors of the werewolf. Instead, it increased them. While he was streaming, people wrote what they had seen in the comments.
We spoke with several people who told us what they experienced. For example, this is what Miguel Ángel Espinosa experienced. He’s one of the people who commented that night.
[Miguel Ángel Espinosa]: Well, on April 10th, at around 1:45 in the morning, I decided to take out the garbage from my house.
[Fernanda]: He took it out late at night because the garbage truck comes very early. The street was deserted. Miguel stepped out of his house, went forward a few meters…
[Miguel]: When I turn to see, I see a blur, something quickly jumping, but it didn’t look like… like a bird. It didn’t look like a cat. Honestly, it looked like a very large mass, a very large body jumping. It jumps into a walled-off area with a wall that’s about three meters tall.
Honestly, the impression I got was indescribable. It’s… it’s… it’s something that surges up from… from your stomach and goes all the way up to your head. You get red and your skin goes pale. It’s… It’s a feeling that you don’t get very often, but it’s fear.
[Fernanda]: Miguel left the bags where he was and ran back into his house. When he made it inside he was very upset, and he was trying to find an explanation. And despite the fact that he has always been very skeptical about the paranormal…
[Miguel]: But this time, I… it really drives me crazy not knowing what could something so big have been. So the truth is that feeling really gave me goosebumps.
[Fernanda]: Up until that night, Miguel hadn’t even heard anything about the werewolf. It was when he posted on his Facebook what had happened to him that his friends sent him the video that José María was streaming right then. And after what he had just gone through, Miguel was one of many who wrote that he had seen something strange.
And that’s because the comments section became a place to meet and share what was happening to them. José María’s plan had backfired, so after streaming for almost half an hour, he said thanks and goodbye.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: Well, goodbye everyone. I hope you’re all very well and that you have a good night. And don’t be afraid of the werewolf.
[Fernanda]: And he tried one more time to dispel the rumors.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: It’s just a legend until there are photos and recordings and reliable witness accounts, then we can get started and put faith and legitimacy in what’s going on.
[Fernanda]: He was already on his way back home when a few police who were in the park came up to him.
[José María]: I mean, the thing is now the municipal police are coming up to me and saying, “Yes, it’s true,” and I ask them, “What’s true?” “The rumors about the werewolf.”
[Daniel]: You heard that right: the police were confirming the existence of the werewolf. Moreover, they told him that at that moment other officers were chasing it through the streets of Coita.
We’ll be right back.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, we heard about how José María took on the task of investigating the rumors that were circulating about there being a werewolf in Coita. At first, he thought it was all a joke, or maybe an effect of the pandemic, the stress of lockdown manifesting as collective paranoia. But he started having doubts the night he went out to record a live stream when the police approached him to tell him the story of the werewolf was true.
Fernanda Guzmán continues the story.
[Fernanda]: José María couldn’t believe what he was hearing, even if it came from the police. Despite his shock, he started asking for more details.
[José María]: The municipal police started describing a subject that was more than two meters tall, a subject, eh, covered in hair with no clothes.
[Fernanda]: But according to the police, its physical appearance wasn’t the most terrifying part. It was the way it moved.
[José María]: And it gets up and lifts its hands to the moon and starts making a kind of howling noise. But they don’t describe it as a howl, but a kind of wailing, like something so deep was causing the creature so much pain, the wail could be confused with a howl.
[Fernanda]: The police officers he was talking to hadn’t seen the werewolf themselves. The information came to them over the radio from some patrol cars that were on the outskirts of town, and specifically one officer who had come across it.
While they were speaking, José María, from time to time, would listen to the radio for updates on the hunt for the werewolf. And the police wouldn’t stop giving him information.
[José María]: They described the patrols to me. They described the wolf. They described the… the police officer, that is, the person’s name, the place, and everything.
[Fernanda]: But he was still convinced that it was a joke. He presented the idea that it might be a person in a costume, going around scaring people. But they told him that it wasn’t possible because of the way it moved.
[José María]: “That can’t be it because this creature moves very fast. I mean, it can jump three meters high.”
[Fernanda]: They told him that they had tried to shoot at it, but it was moving too fast in a zigzag. A normal person couldn’t move like that.
Since they could tell José María still didn’t believe them, they told him to go see for himself in the area where it was reported. And the truth is he wanted to, but he didn’t have a car so it was impossible.
They were talking for more than half an hour and the more questions he asked and the more details they gave him, they more they convinced him. He didn’t know what to think anymore.
[José María]: Because I say, “Hold on. How can the municipal police be telling me there’s a werewolf. I mean, how are public servants who are supposed to be caring for society going to tell me something so incredibly absurd.”
I mean, I told them I can’t believe it. My logic can’t go that far.
[Fernanda]: Here we should say that we tried insistently to speak with the police or the municipal government of Coita to confirm this information, but they never responded.
When the police left, José María started another live stream.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: Just now two people from public safety came up to me in the central park while I was streaming. They were saying that the werewolf was seen at the ecological park. I don’t know. The truth is that… I’m skeptical.
[Fernanda]: But what the police had told him had upset him.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: All I can tell you is that the things the public safety officer told me made my hair stand on end. It made my hair curl (laugh). Uh, it made me nervous, because I was hearing it on the radio.
[Fernanda]: This new video lasts more than 40 minutes. José María explains that the police didn’t want to be interviewed on camera and he can’t stop from going over what they had just told him as he walks around the city center.
People were still connected, asking questions, and leaving comments, so he sent out an invitation:
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[José María]: If there’s anyone from the ecological park, please, that is a witness to this event tonight, this morning, please, leave a comment. To see if we can interview you. It’s very important to have these witnesses who say they saw something strange as sources.
[Fernanda]: Finally, at almost three in the morning, he ended the live stream and went home.
The next day went by like a whirlwind for José María. He kept getting messages and comments on the page from people with eyewitness accounts of their experiences with the werewolf. But people started posting their own videos on social media. Especially people who supposedly had heard the howl. Like these:
[Witness 1]: It’s the werewolf. Yes, well, look at the live stream I’m doing.
[Fernanda]: On-screen all you see is a street at night with several people who seem to have just stepped out of their homes and are looking for something. They’re all looking up at their roofs or off into the distance. In the dark, you can’t make out much more than that.
[Witness 2]: Hey, did you hear that?
[Witness 3]: Yeah, man, I heard it two, three times. Yes, we heard it. You have to realize that it’s huge. It’s really big. Well, it sounds powerful. It’s not like a thin thing. No way.
[Fernanda]: There’s a group of people with flashlights and they’re actively looking for what they heard, some on foot and others in cars. They were only recording for a few minutes.
There were also the people recording from their windows, hiding.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)
[Witness 4 ]: It’s very tense, very… very macabre.
[Witness 4 ]: It’s just that it’s running away, otherwise it would have attacked somebody by now.
[Fernanda]: In none of these videos is there a werewolf, but there are a lot of worried people looking around in the street.
Descriptions kept appearing on the Coita Milenario page. They were always the same: the howl that seemed like a wail, some insisted they had seen it jump three meters. And a lot of people talked about specific smells that came along with the entity.
[José María]: You start to smell a rotting smell, a strong odor of death and others say that it smells like sulfur. And dogs start barking and they start trying to run away.
[Fernanda]: No image of the werewolf was ever recorded, because according to what they said, when it would get close, cameras and phones would stop working.
For example, after the night when Miguel had gone out to take out the garbage and saw that strange figure in the distance, he remembered that one of his neighbors had a camera that looked out into the street and asked if they could see the recording, but the neighbor said that at that exact time the camera had stopped recording.
But what did make it to José María were audio and videos in which people heard the supposed howl of the werewolf. Like this one, which was anonymously posted on the page.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOWLING)
[Fernanda]: After several videos with the same audio recorded in different neighborhoods and at different times of night were sent to the page, they realized that some people were using the occasion to have fun. They had downloaded an audio file from YouTube and were playing it on speakers in the street. It’s this one, and it’s the same as the previous video.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOWLING)
[Fernanda]: That was a joke, obviously. People taking advantage of the collective panic. But what did worry a lot of people was that the police —who, according to what José María told us, weren’t known for their efficiency— now seemed more active than ever.
[José María]: How is it that these people, who are always parked or you see them go by once a day, now you see them moving around the city all day? I mean, they’re looking for something, right?
[Fernanda]: And it wasn’t just the police. That Saturday night, there were reports of people going out again to hunt the werewolf.
[José María]: We’re talking about hearing gunshots all over the city and people hearing the werewolf’s howl.
[Fernanda]: It was total chaos.
[José María]: I started to panic because I think people could be hurt. People could be killed by some gunshot from a crazy person, or someone carrying a gun and shooting into the air to sc.. to scare something they can’t see.
[Fernanda]: José María decided to go looking for his own proof.
So on Sunday, April 12th, he decided to go that afternoon walking to “ground zero,” where they say it had been seen for the first time in Coita. It’s an ecological park within the city limits, about 15 minutes away from downtown, and where they had started construction on a well.
José María hadn’t slept much in the last few days. He was tired and nervous. He didn’t feel comfortable going alone so he asked two other collaborators of the Facebook page to go with him. One of them was Perla Pérez.
When they got there, they started asking people who lived in the area about the werewolf. They told them they’d seen it nearby the night before. This is Perla saying what one of the neighbors told her.
[Perla Pérez]: “No. I live up there,” he says, “and my wife is pregnant, and honestly I took her somewhere else to… to live, with her mom because I don’t know if that creature is good or evil, and… and I don’t want it to kill my wife or my son who’s about to be born.”
[Fernanda]: He told her that that morning he heard the werewolf —the same wail the police already described— so he and some other neighbors went out to the hill to set up a watch.
[Perla]: “We went with eight people,” he says. And well they had a bonfire and he says that the wind was dry, and the sound was dry and the leaves were dry on the ground. They heard a crunching sound like tra tra tra tra, like something… like something was approaching and they say they saw it through the smoke.
[Fernanda]: At that moment, they tried to defend themselves as best they could…
[Perla]: Someone had a shotgun and started shooting, the other had a machete, and the other had… was throwing rocks. And then the creature was moving away from them, like it heard the shots and left, you know? And the dogs were barking and barking and barking.
[Fernanda]: He told her that when the creature, the entity, the supposed werewolf got away, it left tracks. They had proof. Finally, someone had proof. José María and Perla went with them to see the evidence.
[José María]: I mean, I have pictures of the casings on the ground where they were shooting, and they showed me the entity’s footprints.
[Fernanda]: The werewolf’s footprints. José María posted those pictures on the page.
[José María]: We’re talking about a foot that looks like a size ten shoe more or less, a very big foot.
[Perla]: And the size, shape, and structure of the foot. I mean, it’s not from… from a human, right.
[Fernanda]: You can see the marks from some enormous toes. It’s exactly what you imagine when you think of werewolf prints.
[José María]: And they’re not continuous like a… like it was walking, rather there’s a footprint at one point and three meters away there’s another one. Left foot, right foot, but with that difference.
[Fernanda]: He remembered what the police told him on Friday.
[José María]: “It’s an entity that jumps along in a zigzag motion.”
[Fernanda]: José María was confused, and that’s because now they had given him another theory. A friend told him that the thing that was walking through the streets at night, in reality, wasn’t a werewolf but a young apprentice of Nahualism. And here we have to stop to explain what Nahualism is.
Nahuales come from an ancient tradition, they appear in different indigenous cultures in the region from northern Mexico to some countries in Central America. Sometimes, the nahual is understood as an animal guardian or an alter ego that we all have and that accompanies us through life.
Most people don’t know what that animal is, but they say that it’s one that’s born the exact moment we are and represents our inner selves. That’s one meaning, but there’s another that’s what’s important here…
[Andrés Fábregas]: It’s a person who has the ability to transcend human nature and become an animal.
[Fernanda]: And not just any animal, but the one that accompanies them and is their guardian.
[Andrés]: That’s the nahual.
[Fernanda]: This is Andrés Fábregas, an anthropologist. We spoke with him because he was one of the first people to study Nahualism in Mexico, and we wanted to understand how the werewolf could be related to nahuales.
He told us that between 1966 and 1967 he spent a few months in different communities in central Mexico, seeking out and speaking with people who knew about the topic. And in a town called Tlayacapan, he found one person…
[Andrés]: I never learned his name, but everyone knew him by the nickname El Costal.
[Fernanda]: Everyone in the town said that El Costal was a nahual. A supernatural being who had the ability to turn into a tiger. Andrés started speaking with him, for weeks, until he was able to gain his trust and finally, he asked him how being a nahual worked, how he transformed.
[Andrés]: And where does that ability come from? It’s an ability that is acquired through contact with nature. The thing is that there are humans who have that ability.
[Fernanda]: In reality, it wasn’t very clear. But there was more.
[Andrés]: And he told me that this person who transforms into a nahual, who has this ability, has to do it at night. And he needs to look for a corner at the four winds.
[Fernanda]: The four winds are the cardinal directions. Then, at that corner…
[Andrés]: The one who has the ability to transform into a nahual dresses in a poncho, they crouch down and then call on their inner self in order to take on the shape of the animal that is their companion.
[Fernanda]: El Costal could explain the whole process because he had lived through it himself.
[Andrés]: I asked him, “Well, what’s the point of turning into an animal? What’s the joke, as they say in Chiapas?” Then he told me, “Nahuales are very important because they attack drunks and womanizers. They attack thieves. They steal the children of bad women.”
[Fernanda]: In other words, nahuales are figures that maintain order in the community and are also associated with respect for the environment.
[Andrés]: It’s a way of saying, “Well, human beings need to control themselves with respect to nature.” You can’t harm nature in that way because then a nahual comes after you or a witch and it punishes you.
[Fernanda]: For Andrés, the important thing is to understand the function they serve within their context.
[Andrés]: Yes, it’s true that they are legends and they are myths, but one must examine them in terms of a vision of the world. Rid oneself of the prejudice that they’re the beliefs of backwards people. They aren’t. It’s a form of knowledge. It’s a way of knowing the world.
[Fernanda]: And that figure —of the person who transforms into an animal— is found in cultures all over the world. Lycanthropes or werewolves are a manifestation that has a large presence in European culture, but in Asia, we also find shamans who transform into foxes, and in Africa, there are legends of people who transform into leopards.
Humanity seems to have a fixation with this idea. It seems almost logical that contact with the supernatural world would be mediated by animals, who would seem to be closer to the spiritual world than us.
And for the people of Coita, the figure of the nahual is very familiar. Everyone we spoke with there told us some legend about nahuales they had heard as children: the witch who years ago would turn into a pig in order to go eat at the market, or the lieutenant who transformed into a donkey because he liked scaring and chasing neighbors until they finally got him. They’re stories that had been repeated since the time of their grandparents.
Even Claudia, who we heard at the start of this story. When she started following the rumors about the werewolf she mentioned it to her grandpa, a man who’s more than 90 years old.
[Claudia]: And my grandpa said to me, like, very seriously, “Yes, of course, it’s normal there. There are many witches there. Nahuales live there and it’s normal that a werewolf would be there. That’s a thing…. That is a land of witches.”
[Fernanda]: And that’s because Zoque culture —which is the indigenous culture of the people who first lived in that region and who still live there today— has a very strong tradition of witches and nahuales. In fact, in the Zoque language, Coita has a different name.
[José María]: Its name is Picumá, which means land of the great witches or nahuales.
[Fernanda]: This is José María again. He started remembering everything about nahuales when his friend went up to him to tell him what, according to him, was going on with the werewolf.
His friend told him that the werewolf was a nahual apprentice who had tried to turn into an animal but didn’t do it all the way and wasn’t able to return to his human form. So now he was wandering around trying to find help.
His friend even told him that he knew where this nahual’s family lived and suggested they go looking for them. José María was excited about the idea but then, as they were agreeing to go…
[José María]: Well, it turns out people from the… from the same neighborhood kicked them out. They drove the family out of the area for doing witchcraft. So no one knew where the family went.
[Fernanda]: After that, his friend didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He had his reasons. He said:
[José María]: “You know what? I don’t want to help. Honestly, I don’t want to make trouble for myself because I am afraid of the family because they are witches.”
[Fernanda]: He had grown up with that oral tradition, and even though he never took it literally, the theory made sense. On top of that, thinking that they could be dealing with a person who had lived normal life changed everything for José María.
[José María]: And if this nahual has a first and last name, is a human being, I mean, we have to help him. We don’t have to go out and hunt him, right?
[Fernanda]: If it was a human being, that person must be hungry and scared. What they needed to do was find them and try to help them return to their human form.
José María jumped from one theory to another. In his words, he had many investigation folders. In the cultural context of Coita, what his friend told him seemed to make sense. José María thought it was a possibility that the werewolf was a nahual, but part of him wouldn’t let go of the thought it was a hoax. And that’s because he knew that rumors almost always are there to distract people from something more important. In this case, it could be that construction that was going on at the ecological park, where the Coita Werewolf first appeared. Maybe someone made up having seen it so that no one would pay attention to the construction and ask questions about it.
Since the police had told him the werewolf was real, he hadn’t spent any of his free time on anything else. He’d hadn’t slept in several nights because he was following the trail of the werewolf. He was completely enmeshed in the story.
And something we haven’t mentioned is that while José María was following the trail of the werewolf, the story stopped just being local.
Someone had seen what was happening in Coita on social media and posted a thread on Twitter on Saturday, April 11th. The hook on the thread was: “In Mexico, there’s a WHOLE town that hasn’t slept in two nights because there’s a werewolf.” The story blew up.
[Journalist 1]: A piece of news has surfaced that caused terror and alarm among the inhabitants of Chiapas. But it’s not about any illness. It’s about the appearance of a werewolf.
[Journalist 2]: With sticks, machetes, and rifles, men and even the municipal police have gone out at night to try to find and hunt it down in order to bring peace back to this town.
[Journalist 3]: Through a Twitter thread, one user describes how residents have spent two nights looking for a supposed werewolf.
[Fernanda]: The thread reposted pictures of the supposed werewolf tracks, the accounts of the police, and other residents of Coita, but there were also memes and jokes that had inevitably started to circulate about the werewolf. Someone even wrote a song.
(SOUNBITE OF “HOMBRE LOBO EN COITA” BY QUÉ PUE VOS)
[Voice]: The full moon over Chiapas has transformed a man in Coita. He’s hairy, big, and he’ll make you scream. Calm down Coita. Don’t be afraid…
[Fernanda]: In the comments, some people were interested in the topic, but most of them had a mocking tone that painted the people who said they had seen and heard the werewolf as ignorant.
Some people of Coita felt embarrassed by all the attention. They started posting on social media that they didn’t live in that Coita where they believed in the existence of the werewolf. But others defended the town, and a lot of people from outside of the area started commenting that they’d like to go to Coita to look for the werewolf, as if it had become a tourist attraction.
Without paying much attention to what people from other places thought, José María kept going out day and night to look for that “entity,” as he called it since he learned that it could be a nahual.
[José María]: It was like four or five very intense days that seemed… seemed like practically a month because I was barely able to sleep during those days.
[Fernanda]: But he didn’t find the irrefutable proof he was looking for. The closest he got to finding the werewolf was one night when he went to a place that they said the werewolf had just been to. There he was able to see how dogs on the block were scared and wouldn’t stop barking.
In those days he started getting advice from people he didn’t know who called themselves nahual hunters. They told him not to go out alone to do the live streams.
[José María]: “At a minimum, you should go with five people and one of them should be someone who doesn’t believe, in other words, a skeptic, because nahaules make people fall asleep or make them lose their trail with charms. And you need someone who doesn’t believe in it to be the one to bring you back to reality.”
[Fernanda]: They were talking about another power nahuales had. The power to enchant him and make him disappear if José María came across one out there on his own. The only way to protect himself was to bring other people, especially someone who wouldn’t even consider the existence of nahuales a possibility. That person clearly wasn’t José María.
The breaking point for him was when an acquaintance who knew about those topics gave him a more serious warning: he told them that the topic of the werewolf was getting out of hand. And that’s because by looking for it so insistently, he was attracting it, and, according to what he said, in order to help the nahual return to its human form, he would have to sacrifice himself… he would have to die. That ended up terrifying José María.
[José María]: It was at that moment I understood that… that I was exhausting myself physically and emotionally. Well, I felt very exhausted, and I said, “No, no, you know what? This is it. And… and… I’m going to step away from what’s happening a little because if not, I’m going to fall into a state of psychosis, and I don’t want to end up saying it’s true, you know?” I mean, and it could be the case that my mind is playing tricks on me
[Fernanda]: A week after the first live stream, José María stopped going out to investigate. He kept getting reports from people who had seen or heard the werewolf, but they stopped sharing them on the page in order to keep from fueling the fire.
The last thing José María heard was that some loggers had seen a very thin, hairy man one morning in June by a hill on the outskirts of Coita. According to them, he looked very tired.
Rumor has it the nahual went to die in one of the caves of that hill. Or maybe not, and it’s still out there, wandering.
And with that, a new legend —in the middle of the 21st century— was born in Coita.
(SOUNBITE OF “HOMBRE LOBO EN COITA” BY QUÉ PUE VOS)
[Voice]: Scared, the salty one, the wolf runs away howling and is recorded by the aunties of the place…
[Daniel]: This story was produced and edited by Fernanda Guzmán and Victoria Estrada. Fernanda is the editorial intern for Radio Ambulante and she lives in Mexico City. Victoria Estrada is an editor for Radio Ambulante and she lives in Xalapa, Veracruz.
A special thanks to Cecilia Montoya, Rosemberg Román, and Aleks G. Camacho for their help with this episode.
The “Werewolf in Coita” adaptation was written by Qué Pue Vos, over the original “Werewolf in Paris” song by La Unión.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and by me. Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Jorge Caraballo, Aneris Casassus, Xochitl Fabián, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
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